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Discover Jewish Heritage in Vilnius

PagrindinėLithuania’s capital was once known throughout the world as the Jerusalem of the North. During the interwar period, almost a third of its population was made up of Jewish families. It was a real golden age for Yiddish culture: Jewish scholars and rabbis lived in the city, and it was home to over 100 synagogues and prayer

Jewish sights in Vilnius


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1. Holocaust Exhibition at the Vilna Gaon State Jewish Museum

Pamėnkalnio g. 12, www.jmuseum.lt

I-IV 9:00-17:00, V 9:00-16:00, VII 10:00-16:00

The Holocaust Exhibition at the VJGM briefly represents the life of Jews in Lithuania and presents the Holocaust during the Second World War: the ghetto creation and liquidation circumstances, the importance of armed and spiritual resistance in the ghetto, forced labour in concentration camps, saving Jews, and the destruction of cultural heritage in the USSR. The exhibition presents an installation of a shelter in the ghetto where people can hear fragments of the Yitskhok Rudashevski’s diary, which was written in the Vilnius ghetto.

Near the museum, there is a monument to the Righteous Among the Nations, the Dutch consultant Jan Zwartendijk, who gave some 2,200 Jews visas to Curaçao Island in 1940, which ultimately saved their lives. Near it stands a monument to the Righteous Among the Nations of the World, Chiune Sugihara, a Japanese consul in Lithuania (1939–1940), who helped save the lives of 6,000 Jews in 1940.

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2. Jascha Heifetz House

Vilniaus g. 25

From 1906 to 1909, the violin virtuoso Jascha Heifetz studied at the Vilnius Music School, which at that time was located in the house on Vilnius Street 25. Nachman Rachmilevich, a public figure and politician, lived on the same street, in building number 27.

2 (dešinę nukirpti, kad matytųsi žmonės kairėje

3. Jewish Community Centre of Lithuania

Pylimo g. 4, www.lzb.lt 

Today, about 3,000 Jews live in Lithuania, which is only 5% of the Jewish population that lived here before the Second World War. The Lithuanian Jewish community was restored in 1989. It organises cultural, educational and religious events, and oversees Jewish cultural and historical heritage objects. Life in the Jewish Community Centre is full of celebrations of events, exhibitions, concerts and traditional Jewish festivals.

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4. The First YIVO Headquarters

J. Basanavičiaus g. 16

In 1925, Max Weinreich founded the YIVO (Institute for Jewish Research) headquarters in one of the premises of this building. YIVO soon became the largest Jewish scientific institution in the world. The world’s leading scientists and public figures became members of the institute’s honorary presidium: A. Einstein, S. Freud, E. Bernstein etc. YIVO played an important role in fostering Yiddish philology and taking care of Jewish heritage in Eastern Europe.

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5. Vilna Gaon State Jewish Museum: Tolerance center

Naugarduko g. 10/2, www.jmuseum.lt

I-IV 10:00-18:00, V 10:00-16:00, VII 10:00-16:00

At the end of the 19th century, this building had a dining room for the poor run by the Jewish community; it even functioned during the First World War. A professional Jewish theatre was established here in 1918; after 1930, a cinema was added to the building. In 1989, the building was transferred to the Museum of Vilnius Gaon, and in 2001 a division of this museum known as the Tolerance Center was opened here. It houses a permanent exhibition entitled A rescued child of Lithuanian Jews talks about Shoah’; art, cultural, historical and Jewish events, conferences, film screenings, and discussions on topics relevant to society take place here.

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6. Samuel Bak Museum

Naugarduko g. 10/2, www.jmuseum.lt

I-IV 10:00-18:00, V 10:00-16:00, VII 10:00-16:00

Housed in the Vilnius Jewish Gaon Museum, this is the first museum in the world dedicated exclusively to the work of this famous Litvak artist. Samuel Bak was born in Vilnius in 1933 and his first exhibition was held in the Vilnius ghetto when he was just nine. The artist survived the Nazi occupation of Lithuania and found himself in a displaced people camp in Germany before living in Israel and Western Europe. In 1993, Samuel Bak settled in the United States where he still lives and works. According to the artist, Vilnius occupies a special place in his life and in his work; he has visited Lithuania many times since moving to the US.

6 (Jokūbas Jarmalavičius)

7. Vilnius Choral Synagogue

 Pylimo g. 39, I-V 10:00-14:00

The Choral Synagogue is the only synagogue in Vilnius that survived the Second World War without significant damage. The prayer house was designed by architect Dovydas Rozenhauzas and was opened during the 1903 Jewish New Year. There is an area on the second floor of the Mauritanian-style synagogue dedicated to women and the choir. Worshipping takes place every day; people pray in accordance to longstanding religious traditions.

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8. Moyshe Kulbak house

Karmelitų g. 5

The Jewish poet Moyshe Kulbak, who glorified Vilnius in his work, lived in this house in the 1920s.

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9. Romai Printing House

A. Strazdelio g. 1

Over 100 books in Yiddish and Hebrew were published in this printing house. In 1830, the Bible was printed here; in 1835, publishing of the Talmud began.

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10. Jewish Labour Camp

Subačiaus g. 47

During the Second World War on Vilnius Subačiaus Street, which now houses buildings 47 and 49, there was a labour camp known as HKP 562. Some 1,000 Jews were transported to this camp after the liquidation of the Vilnius Ghetto.

This camp is distinguished from the whole world by the fact that, after the war, it was neither destroyed, nor turned into a museum. People still live in these two simple apartment buildings.

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11. Ona Šimaitė Street

This street was named after Ona Šimaitė, a Vilnius University librarian who helped Jews during the Second World War. It stretches along Old Vilnius (near the Saffian Market) near the former Jewish Ghetto.

12. Great Ghetto

The Great Vilnius Ghetto existed from 6 September 1941, to 19 September 1943, within the boundaries of Lida, Rūdninkai, Mėsiniai, Ashmyany, Žemaitija, Dysna, Šiauliai and Ligoninė Streets. There were about 29,000 Jews living in it; most of them were murdered in Paneriai. The house located on Rūdnininkų Street 18 marks the place where the main entrance to the ghetto was – this place is marked with a memorial plaque with the ghetto’s layout. The quarter of Ašmenos, Dysnos and Mėsinių Streets was the first reconstructed site of Old Vilnius. Currently, the Jewish Cultural and Information Centre is located here. In 1921-1951, Žemaitija Street was called Mattityahu Strashun Street. Books from the M. Strašunas collection laid the foundation for the greatest library of Judaism in Europe, created in Vilnius in 1892. The library was destroyed along with the Great Synagogue. After the restoration of Lithuania’s independence, the Vilnius ghetto liquidation day, September 23, became the day of the Jewish Genocide in Lithuania.

13. Monument to Zemach Shabad

Rūdninkų g. 

Zemach Shabad was a legendary man. The doctor worked in various fields, including charity (he was one of the leaders of the organisations that sponsored refugees), health care (an active member of the central educational organisation of Jews and one of the YIVO initiators), social activities and journalism.

 

14. Place of the Great Synagogue

Žydų g. 5

The Great Synagogue of Vilnius – the Spiritual and Cultural Life Centre of Lithuanian Jews – existed from the end of the 16th century until the Holocaust. At the end of the 16th century (about 1572), the Vilnius Jewish community were granted the right to attend their houses of prayer. The first house of prayer was wooden. In 1633, King Wladyslaw IV Vasa allowed a brick synagogue to be built in the Jewish Quarter. Given its size and grandeur, this synagogue was well ahead of all other similar structures of the time and could host several thousand people. War and fires later damaged the synagogue. The architectural monument, which was also severely damaged, survived the Second World War, but it was later destroyed under Soviet rule.

Addition: excavations:

The territory of the Great Synagogue of Vilnius, known as an important spiritual and educational centre for Jews, was recently excavated three times. In 2011, a team of archaeologists from the USA, Israel and Lithuania discovered fragments and details of a rather well-preserved building. In 2016–2017, fragments and the place of the Mikveh (ritual pool) of a public bathhouse belonging to the Jews were found. Scientific archaeological studies of the synagogue complex were also conducted in July 2018. During recent excavations, archaeologists found the Bimah, the main chapel, as well as the floor slabs, which girdled the platform. Archaeologists are still looking for the exterior building walls and want to find the original floor.

15. Monument to Vilna Gaon

Žydų g. 5

Vilna Gaon Elijah Ben Solomon Zalman (1720-1797) was one of the most prominent Jewish wise men and a world-renowned Torah and Talmud researcher. Thanks to him, Vilnius became known as the Jerusalem of the North. Vilna Goan’s house was destroyed during the Second World War; a memorial plaque is mounted on the neighbouring house, and a monument by Kazimieras Valaitis stands nearby.

16. Plate on Jewish Street

Žydų g. 

The Vilnius City Council unveiled street signs in different languages, named after cities or countries. Hebrew and Yiddish plates appeared on Jewish Street of the former Jewish Quarter.

 

17. Small Ghetto

In the 17th and 18th centuries, the intersection of Stiklių, Gaono and Žydų Streets was home to a glass market. At the time, it was possible to find several Jewish merchants and a wide variety of goods. During the Nazi occupation of Lithuania, the Jewish Quarter turned into the Small Ghetto that about 11,000 Jews were transferred to. The Small Ghetto was liquidated on 21 October 1941. The vast majority of Jews living in it were murdered.

18. Former Rabbi Board House

Corner of Šv. Ignoto g. and Benediktinų g.

The Supreme Rabbi board of the Great Vilnius Synagogue was considered one of the most important institutions of the Jewish community and was located in this building. In 1903, representatives of the community met here with Theodor Herzl, the patriarch of the national movement of Jews (Zionism); this event is immortalised on a memorial plaque.

 

19. Vilnius University

Universiteto g. 3, www.vu.lt

03-10 I-VI 9:00-18:00, 11-04 I-VI 9:30-17:30

The Centre for Cultural Communities of Vilnius University is aimed at preserving Jewish heritage and spreading information about it. The university also hosts the Yiddish Institute, where the language is taught and Yiddish culture is fostered. The university’s Yiddish Language and Literature Institute was founded in 1940, but it only operated until the start of the Second World War in Lithuania. Even within such a short time, the department head, Noah Prylucki, was able to publish a book about the history of Jewish theatre. He also prepared and conducted several lecture cycles on Yiddish language and culture. During the war, many university professors and employees helped save Jewish lives. One of the most prominent of these personalities is Ona Šimaitė, a librarian and publisher. A memorial plaque dedicated to her acts can be found in the courtyard of the university library, and a street in Vilnius’ Old Town bears her name. In 1866-1915, I.P. Trutnev’s renowned art school operated in the university. It developed many artists and sculptors who later became internationally recognised, including Jacques Lipchitz, Naoum Aronson, and Chaim Soutine.

 

20. Monument of the former Jewish Cemetery

Olimpiečių g.

A special monument marks the place where the Jewish cemetery in Šnipiškės once was.

Other Jewish Cemeteries: 

  • Former Jewish Cemetery in Olandų street;

Jewish public and religious figures rest in the cemetery.

  • Jewish Cemetery in Sudervės street;

Perhaps the most prominent person buried here is the Vilna Gaon. In total, there are more than 70,000 people buried in the cemetery, which consists of a territory of 11 hectares. A Jewish cemetery was located until 1946, but in 1961-1963 the Soviet government destroyed it.

21. C. Sugihara Cherry Garden

Upės g.

In 2001, on the right bank of the Neris River near the White Bridge and next to the National Gallery of Arts, an alley of 200 Japanese Sakuras, also known as Japanese Cherry Trees, was planted. They are a gift to Vilnius from the Japanese Government for the 100th anniversary of the birth of Chiune Sugihara, a man who, during the Second World War, saved thousands of Jews from Lithuania, Poland and Germany. On the monument located near the entrance to the garden, it is written that these cherry trees are a gift from the Japanese to Lithuania, dedicated to strengthening ties between the two countries.

22. Paneriai Memorial of the Vilna Gaon State Jewish Museum

Agrastų g. 15

II-III 9:00-17:00, V,VII 9:00-16:00

Up to 70,000 people were killed in Paneriai during the massacres of the Second World War; most of them were Jews. It represents Europe’s largest location of mass killings where the victims were shot. There are authentic pits on the territory of the memorial intended for the exhumation and burning of the Burning Brigade victims. In the Memorial Information Centre, you can learn more information about the tragic events that took place in Paneriai, the latest research into the memorial area, and can book a guided tour.

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